2018 Miami Heat Offseason Preview: Will 3-point specialist Wayne Ellington return to Heat?

Wayne Ellington established a Miami Heat team single-season record with 227 threes in 2017-18. (Photo by Kevork Djansezian/Getty Images)

    The NBA starts a new fiscal year 12 a.m. Sunday, which also signals the start of free agency and what once again will be a busy offseason. The Miami Heat may not be as big a player as usual this offseason because of roster and payroll limitations but president Pat Riley still will be busy trying to find a way to upgrade his roster, however difficult that may be.

   This week we take a look at the biggest offseason questions surrounding the Heat. Today’s question: Will the most prolific single-season 3-point shooter in team history, Wayne Ellington, be back in a Heat uniform? We’ll shift to a different question each day leading up to the start of free agency.

[Monday’s question: LeBron James could be on the move again, do the Heat have a chance of bringing him back?]

[Tuesday’s question: Will Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem return for a 16th NBA season or retire?]

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MIAMI – The Miami Heat have few decisions when it comes to retaining their own free agents. But the most complicated centers around guard Wayne Ellington.

Ellington, 30, completed his second season with the Heat after general manager Andy Elisburg’s creative bookkeeping allowed Miami to pick up the team’s option last summer, guaranteeing Ellington $6.27 million for 2017-18. The deal was one of the best bargains on the team as Ellington produced all season, averaging a career-high 11.2 points and setting a career-high and team record with 227 made 3-pointers.

Now, bringing back Ellington for a third year gets a bit trickier to Miami.

[RELATED: Photos of the incredible style at the 2018 NBA Draft]

Ellington will become an unrestricted free agent Sunday and is set to sign the most lucrative contract of his career. After finishing tied for sixth in the league in 3-pointers made and establishing and NBA record for the most threes while coming off the bench, some lists have Ellington as high as fifth among free agent shooting guards.

The Heat have Ellington’s early Bird rights, allowing them to exceed the cap and play him 175 percent of his current salary. That means Miami could start Ellington for as much as $10.9 million next season and sign him for up to four years with eight percent raises each year. A deal that could reach $44.5 million if maxed out.

The problem is unless president Pat Riley and Elisburg find a way to shed salary, the Heat would be forced to cross the luxury tax line for Ellington to return, something the Heat will be reluctant to do on a team that finished as the No. 6 seed and was ousted from the playoffs in five games.

The Heat already have 10 players under contract for about $119 million, well over the projected $101 million salary cap and just $4 million shy of the projected $123 million luxury tax line. Signing Ellington to a starting salary of $10.9 million would mean a luxury tax bill of more than $10 million on top of Ellington’s salary if the rest of the team remains intact.

Riley was asked last week how optimistic he was about Ellington returning.

“The guy’s had a great, great two years with us,” he said. “We’re up against the tax but we’re going to do everything we can do to try to keep him.

“He’s here every day, working out, making threes. I have a video screen in my office, so I can watch him every day. He’s still putting the same kind of work in now that he did last year. So, that is something we’re going to have to be very creative with.”

Ellington’s future with the Heat will depend on many other things. Are the Heat able to shed salary, not so much to get under the cap but at least create more space between the bottom line and luxury tax threshold to bring back Ellington without a luxury tax bill? Can the Heat make any trades and if so do they find a nice scoring option off the bench that would lessen the necessity of re-signing Ellington?

And what about Dwyane Wade and Udonis Haslem? They, too, are unrestricted free agents and could cost Miami about $7.7 million to bring back. Add that to Ellington’s salary and the Heat certainly are not bringing back all three, which would put them about $14.6 million over the luxury tax line, without making any deals to reduce the payroll.

The wildcard is if the Heat go over the luxury tax they have until the end of the regular season to get back under the tax line before paying the penalty. So, if it meant going over by a few million to sign Ellington with the idea they’ll figure a way to get back under they could take that chance.

Riley even hinted that could be case when he met with the media a few days after the season ended.

“There’s no doubt that we want him back,” Riley said of Ellington. “It’s how do we get him back and deal with the tax threshold. If we signed Wayne and he takes us into the tax, then that guy right over there (Elisburg) has 15 months to get us out.”

[Mailbag: How much will healthy Dion Waiters, energized Hassan Whiteside help Heat if no other roster improvements are made?]

[Dwyane Wade wakes up in a ‘cold sweat’ nights ‘thinking I lost it all’]

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